Cutting energy and Windows by switching to EverNote

January 18, 2010

Since I started taking college notes with my laptop five years ago, I’ve used Microsoft OneNote as my "digital office," holding the files that would otherwise fill hundreds of manila envelops. OneNote is a great program - I can scan to it, "print" directly into it, and generally take notes effectively with it. But it’s still very much the 2007 edition. It syncs between Windows PC’s (sharing the notebook files directly), but there’s no Mac client or cloud/web component. (It’s theoretically possible to set up a limited web interface with SharePoint, but the process is too complicated and the UI not appealing.)

What this meant in practice was that, despite having 90% of my daily-required data in the cloud, and 90% of my regularly used home files on my ReadyNAS, to access my "office" files I needed to keep my Windows (7rc) desktop PC running all the time, accessible via Remote Desktop. I was once in a car insurance company’s office updating my policy, they needed some years-old document, I logged into OneNote via Bluetooth tethering on my Mac and had it emailed to the insurance rep within two minutes. The price of this wonderful luxury, however, was a constant 200 watt power consumption of my big old Dell machine. (This information courtesy of a KillAWatt meter plugged behind the computer’s surge protector.) Over time that’s added up to a lot of wasted electricity and money.

So recently I decided to make the move to EverNote. I had heard about it before, but (besides Mac support) it seemed pretty similar to OneNote, so I ignored it. But now EverNote syncs to the cloud (500 MB/month with a $5/m or $45/yr premium account); there’s an Android app for taking and viewing mobile notes (including audio); the Mac client integrates beautifully with the OS (with a Print PDF to EverNote like OneNote’s print driver). If I’m totally remote it’s all available directly from the web.

EverNote imports directly from OneNote, albeit with some issues, but most of the migration was seamless. OneNote’s linear section/subsection structure migrated nicely into EverNote’s more flexible tagging system. During the process, I realized I didn’t need every little note from five years ago anymore, every college lecture’s notes in a separate file, etc; so it was an opportunity to consolidate and clean. 

There were still tradeoffs to consider. As a standalone app, OneNote is more powerful for freeform markup and editing of paper-like notes. (EverNote is more of a rich text editor with images.) EverNote for Windows doesn’t scan or print directly into the program, but it can automatically import files from "watched folders," so scanning to a TIFF or PDF has the same result. EverNote can’t resize images directly in a note (but it’ll open an image editor and sync back the saved file).

OneNote 2010 is supposed to have a cloud component. There’s a beta now, but it doesn’t have that feature enabled yet, and the final suite will cost $199-$499. There might even be a Mac version for another $199. But the mobile Office apps will continue to be Windows Mobile-only (EverNote has that plus every other major platform). I think this speaks to Microsoft’s predicament generally. They’ve finally discovered the cloud, but two years too late. They’re opening to alternative OS’s years too late, and getting into mobile only with their own platform, which is in last place for market share among the big players.

Now that everything’s moved over, there’s little reason to ever log into my home desktop remotely anymore, so I’ll be able to leave the box off most of the time. (I use it for Netflix, Hulu, and casual browsing at my desk; otherwise I’m on a Mac or Ubuntu laptop. The ReadyNAS uses a fraction of the power and sleeps when not in use.) Most importantly, it means my next home computer will definitely be a Mac. OneNote was the killer app for Windows, the only reason I had to stay with it. But I need more than a good single-platform software package now, I need tools that work wherever I am, whatever operating system I’m on. Freemium software-as-a-service is also a much better way to pay for software than $200 software-in-a-box that needs to be upgraded every two years to stay relevant. There’s really nothing in any category I can think of that meets these standards better than the competition and is made by Microsoft.